WEST UNION – A journey filled with hopes and dreams that began ten years ago, has been fraught with challenges. But today, Unionland Feed & Supply is so much more than a place to buy foodstuffs for livestock – it's also an indoor farmers' market offering locally-grown foods.
As father and son, Gary and Justin Steinlage began building their original dream of a feed store, they wanted their business to offer a wide range of products, while keeping a bit of charm and nostalgia of feed stores of decades past.
Today, in a brand new building that arose from the ashes of a fire in November 2013, the Steinlages believe they've achieved those early goals.
When they started a decade ago, the business sold Kent Feeds for both large and small livestock. Soon, they realized it would be a valuable service to their customers to buy back eggs raised in their poultry operations, which were quickly snatched up by walk-in customers at the feed store just across the street from the Fayette County Courthouse in West Union.
Seeing the success of that value-added business, Justin in particular, began looking for other products to offer on the shelves at Unionland Feed.
"We began working with people that did business with us," says Justin. Soon, yogurt from Country View Dairy near Hawkeye could be found on the store's shelves, along with cheese curds and ice cream from WW Homestead Dairy at Waukon. Justin's aunt and uncle, Melissa and Dan Fagle, began offering their Fagleview Meats, further expanding the offerings,
But then, just as the business seemed to be flourishing with the addition of locally-grown foods and increased walk-in traffic, a fire on Nov. 5, 2013, destroyed the structure and another next door.
Devastated, the Steinlages had to think seriously about what lie ahead for them.
Justin was engaged to be married the following summer. Gary had begun pursuing other side interests. But in just a few short weeks, they agreed the business was important enough to the community it had to be rebuilt.
Today, Gary is in partnership with Justin and his wife, Candace, who were married June 28 of last year. With Gary often working another job outside the feed store, Justin's cousin, Chelsey Matthias, was hired to work part-time in the store that was rebuilt on the existing site. These days, Unionland Feeds buys and re-sells eggs from its feed customers to the tune of 400 to 500 dozen per week. Graded eggs are sold to a couple of local businesses who use them on their menus.
Justin's aunt and uncle, Melissa and Dan Fagle, are a source for farm fresh beef (Fagleview Meats) and pork products are available via the Reicks family near New Hampton. The Unruh family's lettuces are also sold at Unionland.
Expanding on their success as an outlet for locally-grown foods, Chelsey, Justin and Gary agreed to offer foods originating from an even wider geographic area.
Justin describes it as a demand-driven growth.
Items like peanuts in the shell, chips, queso, bread and cookie mixes, bloody mary mix and jars of olives and pickled asparagus were extremely popular with customers prior to Christmas as they resulted in tasty gift baskets and grab bag gifts.
Gary says the result was repeat business and new customers who received the gift baskets and may have been previously unfamiliar with the products they offered.
"We've learned you never say 'no' to a new idea," grins Justin. That's why he recently told Ashley Roach he'd add her organic body soap to the offerings on Unionland Market shelves.
Because the business now operates in a brand new building, as they were determining how to best merchandise their wares, Teresa Wiemerslage of the Iowa Food & Fitness program came to visit and offer suggestions.
The Steinlages said the conversation drifted to the question of what Unionland would do with under utilized space to the west. When Gary suggested he might look to rent out the space to someone needing an office, he said Wiemerslage asked about locating the then fledgling Iowa Food Hub, there. The Food Hub had been renting cooler space at a grocery in Decorah but sought to expand. Now, from it's new location next to Unionland Feeds & Market, a walk-in freezer and cooler allow the business to better operate it's food distribution service from there. The non-profit agency connects farmers to families, through locally-grown food. The business assists more than 50 northeast Iowa farms in a 15-mile radius connect with those interested in their products.
During the growing season, Unionland Market will be an outlet for the foods distributed by the Iowa Food Hub.
The best way to discover the many offerings of the market, is to visit the store on the southeast corner, across the street from the Fayette County Courthouse in West Union. You can also find them on Facebook.